Layers of Fear Xbox One review: This isn't painting by numbers

If a picture can paint a thousand words, how many letters must an artist write to get his point across?

Layers of Fear

No doubt, just mentioning the words artist and insane will make you think of a couple of well-known painters. Van Gough being one of the most infamous, slicing part of his own ear off and is suspected to have suffered from very severe depression.

Michaelangelo, responsible for the incredible frescoes painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is supposed to have been both brilliant and tormented, never washing and sleeping fully clothed. To dip further into fantasy, author Oscar Wilde's titular character Dorian Gray worshipped and fell prey to his own vanity, selling his soul so that the painting of him would age and rot instead, ideally keeping him young and beautiful forever.

I don't presume to know anything about art itself. I can't draw or paint in the least, my creative prowess with a pencil is limited to phallic shapes and cats, and my prowess with paints is limited to just phallic shapes. That being said, I LOVE art. I'm envious of people who can make music, or create things with their hands and the end result is pretty much how they intended it to be. Somewhere inside me, I think there is a miscommunication between my head and my hands, because what lives in my mind's eye never resembles anything I make.

Layers of Fear


Layers of Fear is a story-based exploration, psychological horror game, developed by Blooper and published on ID@Xbox.

Set in a first-person perspective, Layers of Fear tells the story of a psychologically disturbed painter determined to create his "masterpiece" works. With no enemies to fight, the thrills are delivered by very well-timed jump scares, and plain messing with your mind!

To be honest, when I discovered my headset plays the game audio as well, I've taken to playing everything with headphones on. I find this helps me immerse myself more fully, I get dragged under by the minute audio details that might otherwise be missed without. And let's face it, what good is playing a psychological horror game if you're not at least a little bit willing to risk a run to the washing machine after you've just messed yourself?

I fell in love with Layers of Fear instantly. I was immediately taken in by the graphics which are just beautiful with stunning such clarity and detail, which may be lost in darkened rooms only to be illuminated by flashes of lightning. (Epilepsy warnings are displayed when starting — game safely!)

Layers of Fear

To begin with, controlling Layers of Fear felt very awkward. The right trigger is your action button, but this is only one-half of fulfilling an action. Then you must use the stick to mimic the movement of the object you wish to use, like opening doors. Before long, I got used to it, and it began to make sense to control things in this way. It would make for a pretty soulless experience to just explore and only hit the same button every time you wanted to look into the contents of a drawer, so this control method helps immerse the player further, in my opinion.

The introduction to the game describes how the unnamed painter is currently in the middle of some kind of court case, his lawyer implores him to stop pretending to be insane. But as we make progress through the game, and we assist him in his creation of his greatest work, we start pulling back the layers and discovering that maybe this guy isn't pretending.

Since the player controls the painter, we experience his mental disturbances with him. Once in a seemingly normal relationship, we learn he had a wife and a child, but by the time we come into the game, neither are now in the home. His works were once likened to Caravaggio, but his fame had begun to wane.

As the painter stumbles around this ancient and vast Victorian house (and if my ears don't lie, you can tell he has a limp from the walking sound effect), we find letters, pictures and notes which help develop the story. Something has happened to his wife, leaving her wheelchair bound, which enraged the painter so badly that most of the his correspondence devolved into harassing medical experts.

Then something happened to his daughter, leaving her disfigured. The painter then seems to lose his marbles completely. Perhaps he could no longer deal with the fact his family was no longer 'beautiful'. (Much of the story is left pretty ambiguous and the developers prefer for people to make their own conclusions.) Locking himself away for long periods of time, he neglected his family for the sake of his work. It's pretty safe to say that by the time we start the game, he lives alone, maybe with a housekeeper who tries to clean up after him and his plainly alcoholic tendencies.

I loved the way the game played with my head. While the music is gentle with calm piano keys, it's interspersed with a situational screeching of strings to help shock you at certain moments. Paintings fly off of walls just as you're about to walk past them, or they could melt into something distorted and abhorrent right before your eyes, and I don't mind in admitting that I jumped and cringed on more than a few occasions.

Rooms seem to explode around you, their furnishings violently blasting out at all angles. What began as a seemingly normal game turned into an MC Escher-hell (in a good way). Endless corridors that lead to nowhere, but turn around and it's like you never even left. Layers of Fear has perfected the art of "That wasn't like that a second ago". Environments change within moments of you looking away, it's so well done and used in a way that has set the bar quite high for other psychological horror games.

The use of puzzles helps prolong progression in this 3-5-hour-long game. They're not so hard that you'll be looking up the answers on Google, but if you have the patience it won't take you long to figure things out. You won't be able to leave a room without picking up the key items inside, which is good, because you won't be leaving any important items behind. That said, it is possible to miss out on some newspaper cuttings and other collectibles, but they're only a vehicle for the backstory. There is a new game plus mode to the game, where you start again but with all the pieces your collected the first time around.

Layers of Fear



  • Brilliant graphic detail
  • Perfectly timed and executed moments
  • Simple puzzles


  • Almost woefully short
  • Ambiguous story doesn't explain much

3-5 hours may not seem long for a game, but the quality of those few short hours is really worth it. With a reasonably low price tag of around $20, I think you'd be missing out on a very intriguing and very exciting game. While deep down yes, it is your bog standard psychological horror scare tactic jamboree, its executed in such a way that it blows others like Slender or SCP-187-b clean out of the water.

See on the Xbox Store

Lauren Relph

Lauren Relph is a games writer, focusing on Xbox. She doesn't like piña coladas but loves getting caught in the rain. Follow her on Twitter!